Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan and the great compromise


What was Virginia Plan?

The Virginia Plan, also known as the “Large-State Plan” or “Randolph Plan“, was a proposal for a weight-based distribution of the population (distribution of legislative positions) in national legislation. The plan was drafted by James Maddison at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as they waited for the college to gather.

virginia plan

Virginia Plan by James Maddison

The Virginia plan was in the interest of the then most populous state Virginia. As did Virginia; other comparatively densely populated states also applied for  a representation model in the federal parliaments weighted on the population and the prosperity of the states. It was designed by Virginia’s representative to the Confederation of Congress James Madison, who later became the 4th President of the United States. The convention came at a time when the young US was plagued by economic problems that led to radical political movements. People was afraid that the republican experiment would soon fall. The convention had been called to amend the Confederation’s articles, but the Virginia Plan set the agenda for the creation of a new constitution.

Virginia Plan vs. New Jersey Plan

The plan was submitted before the congress by the head of the Virginia delegation, Governor Edmund Randolph, on May 29, 1787. It briefly formulated 15 resolutions that should define the powers and structure of the national government. It proposed a tripartite national government consisting of the executive, legislative and judiciary administrations. It also proposed a dual-chamber legislation in which states would have votes proportional to their populations. This proposal was naturally supported by the big states.

On June 15th, 1787, the Virginia Plan was counteracted by the New Jersey Plan, also called the Paterson Plan or the Small State Plan. This proposal was officially brought before the Convention by William Paterson of New Jersey. The Paterson Plan suggested to keep the Confederation’s articles without any changes and unlike the Randolph Plan, which called for the drafting of a new constitution. Specifically, the New Jersey Plan wanted to maintain one-chamber legislation in which everyone had only one vote.

Great Compromise (Connecticut Plan)

The smaller states supported the New Jersey proposal, which led to a stalemate, as the big states would not turn away from the Virginia Plan. In response to the stalemate, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth proposed the Great Compromise or the Connecticut Plan, borrowed from both the Paterson and Randolph plans. The Connecticut Plan called for a bicameral legislation with a weighted division in the House of Representatives and equal representation in the Upper House (Senate). Tax and other monetary policy issues would be discussed in the House of Representatives. The proposal was ratified on June 16th, 1787 and became the basis of the federal government and the US Constitution. The convention went on to determine how the population would be defined for representative partitioning. Three-fifths of the slave population would be counted for representation purposes and also for tax purposes.

Virginia Plan Definition

The plan played a crucial role in setting the general agenda for the convention and called for a strong national government. The plan was the first document to present proposals to separate the powers of the judiciary, executive and legislative branches. The plan succeeded in settling the distinction between the anti-federalist and the federalists with the proposal for the bicameral legislation. The plan was finally adopted by the Convention and incorporated into the Constitution.


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